Matthew 25:1–13 comment (0)
September 18, 2008
By Joseph F. Scrivner
Related Scripture: Matthew 25:1–13
Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT
Matthew contains five significant sections of Jesus’ teaching (Chapters 5–7; 10; 13; 18; 24–25). Beginning the final section, Jesus addresses the temple’s destruction, the end of the age and His return as the Son of Man (Matt. 24:1–44). To emphasize watchful endurance, Jesus continues with three parables and an exhortation about the final judgment (Matt. 24:45–25:46). An important concern in this section is the temptation of complacency while the final judgment is delayed. Jesus’ disciples must not be like the unfaithful slave, who presumed on the master’s postponement.
There’s Always Time (1–5)
Jesus accentuates readiness in His parable about the “ten virgins.” In the context of a wedding, these virgins are bridesmaids who await the bridegroom’s coming so they can participate in the wedding procession. This procession is on the way to the wedding banquet (see v. 10). Thus Jesus again presents the Kingdom in terms of a celebratory event (Matt. 8:11–12; 22:1–2; 26:29).
In preparing for this party, these 10 show themselves to be comprised of two distinct groups, five wise and five foolish. This is indicated by their respective perspectives on preparation in the event of postponement. The wise and prepared have oil for their lamps in case there is delay, but the foolish and unprepared make no such plans. The bridegroom is delayed and the bridesmaids fall asleep.
Time’s Up (6–9)
The bridegroom finally arrives at midnight. The bridesmaids are called but the unprepared do not have oil for their lamps. They ask the others for oil, but the prepared respond by explaining there is not enough for everyone. They cannot share and remain prepared themselves. The unprepared leave the procession in search of additional oil. Thus, when the bridegroom arrived, one group was not ready at the crucial hour.
The oil should not be seen as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Rather the oil represents preparation in the form of watchfulness in particular and righteousness in general (Matt. 5:20; 7:24–29; 25:31–46). In addition, this parable should not be used to reinforce negative stereotypes about women, that women are spiritually weaker. Jesus referred to both men and women to make His point about a foolish lack of preparation. His followers should surely do the same.
Unknown Time (10–13)
While the unprepared are pulled away from the procession, the prepared enter the party. Their preparation is rewarded with participation. The door to the party is shut behind them. When the unprepared return, they are too late. In response to their plea for entry, the bridegroom tells them he never knew them. Thus the parable ends: “Therefore, be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” (see Matt. 24:36, 44).
The coming of the bridegroom refers to the return of Jesus as the coming Son of Man. Neither the Son nor the angels know when this will occur, only the Father knows (Matt. 24:36). This emphasis on the unknown time of Jesus’ return has often led to an evangelistic appeal. Those who do not know Jesus must come to know Him before time has elapsed.
The parable also points to another important theme. Repeatedly Jesus indicates there are some who believe themselves to be in the Kingdom, but they are ultimately found to be outsiders. Jesus makes this clear in the wedding banquet parable (Matt. 22:1–14) and in His final discourse on the last judgment (Matt. 25:31–46). The bridegroom’s response to the unprepared echoes Jesus’ earlier statement, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21). As that context makes clear, these individuals believed they were engaged in the Kingdom’s work. Yet Jesus tells them, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23).
Such followers were apparently self-deceived. Nevertheless the bad fruit demonstrated the true nature of the tree (Matt. 7:15–20). Diligent attention to the cleanliness of one’s house will always make it more inviting for others. May God enable believers to approach Christian missions in such terms.